The Secrets of Surly

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The last year has been a busy one for Surly Brewing. Obviously, the company’s biggest project has been its new brewing facility, which is scheduled to open next fall in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park neighborhood. The new brewery alone would be enough for most companies. But, as founder Omar Ansari once said, “The Surly way is not the easy way.” Over the last year, Surly Brewing has also undertaken a number of smaller projects, including an unprecedented number of collaborations.

The Growler sat down with Surly Brewing’s Head Brewer Todd Haug to get the lowdown on the brewery’s recent collaborations and how they relate to Surly’s other limited release beers.

Surly’s ‘Year of Collaborations’

In the last year, Surly teamed up with a number of outside partners to create beers for special occasions. The brewery worked with metal bands, restaurants and, of course, other breweries for limited collaborative beers. According to Todd Haug, the appeal of collaborative projects is the chance to experiment and try something new.

“It was the year of collaborations, apparently,” said Haug. “It wasn’t part of the plan, but it just kind of happened that way. We started the year out with Blakkr, which was a collaboration with us, Three Floyds, and Real Ale. Then we did the Amon Amarth one. We did what we call a Viking IPA. We tried to “rustic up” beer making as much as we could. We fermented it on oak, which we don’t usually do, we put oak in the fermenter, and we tried some different traditional English malts to give it a more rustic ‘I’m making my own malt, I don’t really know what I’m doing’ kind of feel, like a Viking might be doing.”

Todd Haug and the brewers behind Blakkr // Photo courtesy of Surly Brewing

Todd Haug and the brewers behind Blakkr // Photo courtesy of Surly Brewing

The Viking IPA was Surly’s first formal collaboration with a metal band, but not the last. The brewery has announced a bottled collaboration with the band 1349 and a draft-only collaboration with Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. “We brewed the 1349 beer collaboratively with Lervig, a brewery in Stavanger, Norway. The band is very involved in the recipe and how they want it to taste. It’s going to be a beer that we’d like to make and release every year.”

The Uncle Acid beer is called Devil’s Work Porter and will clock in at a Satanic 6.66% ABV. “That’ll be awesome,” said Haug.” I’ve been in contact with the lead singer and he’s all for it. It’s gonna be a black licorice molasses porter.”

In a slightly less sinister pairing, Surly partnered with Chipotle on a farmhouse ale brewed exclusively for the Chipotle Cultivate Festival in late August. For the event, Haug created a completely hop-free beer with dandelion greens, which he said was inspired by travel and the turning of the seasons. He and his wife spent a lot of time in Europe during the early part of the year and saw spring in Belgium and Germany. But upon returning to Minnesota, winter lingered on. “I was like ‘When the hell is spring gonna come?” said Haug. “And all of the sudden my yard was full of dandelions.”

He said the project was a good excuse to steer away from the main trend in beer right now—hops. “Craft beer has gotten so centered on IPAs, hop-forward beers, and everything that’s been changed into a hoppy version,” said Haug. “We’re guilty of it too. Enough already. I want hoppy beers and I want malty beers, and I want beers that don’t have any hops.”

Other projects, like the recent rarity Long of Tooth, are more traditional brewery collaborations. “Lanny Hoff, who is the local guy that runs Artisanal Imports and imports a bunch of cool beers, they do a brewmaster’s collaboration every year with De Proef. This year was the Midwest and they picked me, which was awesome,” said Haug. “I brought an ingredient from Belgium that no one really thinks about for Belgian beer and that’s chocolate. It’s aged on cacao nibs and oak and finished with Brett. And I’d like to brew it again next winter. A couple things I wanted to do process-wise that didn’t happen, so I’m going to try them here.”

Another recent collaboration pays homage to Haug’s other work as a guitar player. The collaborative brew Todd the Axe Man was created with Amager Bryghus of Denmark. “We went to the Copenhagen Beer Fest and met some awesome brewers like Amager. They really wanted to know about some ingredients that they don’t have access to. One of them is Golden Promise, the malt we use in Furious. The popular thing now is a single hop beer. This is a single malt beer. It’s all Golden Promise. And two trendy American hop varieties, Mosaic and Citra. So it’s a single malt, West Coast American IPA. We’re going to brew that too, so you should be able to find it here.”

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